This website is an interactive academic
tool for CEA-UNH course:
Gay Paris:
Culture, Society, & Urban Sexual Identity

CEA GlobalCampus | Spring 2009
UNH Course Code: GEN230
Credits: 3 | Location: Paris, France

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chapter 10: The Conflagration

The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France Since 1968
_Frederic Martel

" 'A cancer that afflicts only homosexuals? No, it's too good to be true, I could die laughing!' Michel Foucault fell of his sofa, contorted by a fit of uncontrollable laughter..." (p. 187)

"The first mention of the 'gay cancer' in the monthly Gai Pied dates from September 1981. It took the form of a short informative article signed by Antoine Perruchot and titled 'Amour à risques' [At-risk love]: 'The American gay community is in an uproar. In the last several weeks, about forty cases of the very rare Kaposi's sarcoma have been reported in the United States. All the patients are queer." (p. 189)

'Since the beginning of the year, not a week has gone by when the mainstream press has not reveled in sensational headlines about a disease that is preying on us poor queers. More virulent than the plague and gangrene combined...Wait and see. In the meantime, live, do not panic. So fucking is dangerous? What about crossing the street? ' [Cluade Lejeune, Gai Pied, April 1982]

'So, as a result of a disease specific to them, queers are now going back on the list they had unfortunately dropped off, that of social scourges.' [Albert Rosse, Gai Pied, June 1982]

"The first phase, denial of the disease or, at the very least, a belief that it was unlikely to come to France, can be easily explained: no one knew how the disease was spread. The virus had not been discovered, nor had the means of transmission..." (p. 190)

"AIDS appeared soon after the homosexual liberation movement...Its initial progression occurred at a time when homosexual lifestyles had become widespread in France: there was organized cruising, there were baths and back rooms in the provinces, and there was the new specialized neighborhood of the Marais in Paris. In many respects, the homosexual 'theater' of the early 1980s was a boon for the new virus. The way AIDS was spread, via networks and relays fed by the high level of sexual promiscuity and the intermingling of partners, set off a chain reaction that grew exponentially. For homosexuals, the conflagration had started." (p. 192)

"Among the once-anonymous figures made famous by the epidemic, Gaetan Dugas will probably remain the international symbol for a certain irresponsibility on the part of gays. A flight attendant with Canadian Airlines, he was the archetype of the modern homosexual of the early 1980s: blond, mustached, twenty-nine years old. Every year he accumulated an estimated 250 sexual partners. In June 1980, he learned that the blotches on his body were due to a very rare form of cancer, Karposi's sarcoma. Rapidly informed by doctors that he had contracted the 'gay caner' he agreed to give them the names of seventy-three of his recent lovers. The epidemiological research, conducted by a method similar to police cross-checking, showed that in 1982 at least forty of the 248 cases diagnosed in North America were among former partners of Gaetan. Duly warned, he nevertheless rejected the advice to be careful and to take protective measures, saying the disease, 'I got it; they can get it too!' He died on March 30, 1984. This 'sex kamikaze' was nicknamed 'Patient Zero.' (p. 195)

"In late 1982, twenty-seven cases of AIDS were reported in France: eight of the patients were homosexuals were had spent time in the United States around 1980, and there was no question that they had been infected there. Four others were also homosexual but seem to have been infected in France; the rest were heterosexual and had traveled to the Caribbean (Haiti) or to equatorial Africa. The disease gradually progressed from being the 'gay cancer' to being the '4H' cancer: homosexuals, heroin addicts, Haitians, and hemophiliacs." (p. 195)

"On January 3, 1983, Willy Rozenbaum removed a lymph node from a French homosexual patient who had spent time in New York...Montagnier placed the sample in a culture under a hood at the Institut Pasteur. 'We had decided to do a probe, as we call it...we had an extraordinary stroke of luck because the first probe was the right one. On the fifteenth day, with the initial culture still alive, we detected the presence of weak but significant 'reverse transcriptase' activity." (p. 196)

"Although the causal link between the virus and particular behaviors on the part of homosexuals was virologically false (the virus was not specific to gays), the truth is that this link was epidemiologically well founded (most of the people in France were homosexual)...Militants fell victim to the same identity trap they claimed to be fighting. They confused AIDS, which attacks homosexuals for 'what they do,' with a disease that would attack them for 'what they are.' " (p. 197)

Sound familiar? What does this have to do with our conversations about identity politics/Foucault?

"The Gay Pride Day festivities of 1983 made no reference to AIDS." (p. 197)

"The discovery of the virus led to the distribution of a questionnaire intended to exclude blood donors who belonged to 'at-risk groups' in 1983...It is understandable why homosexuals felt that any administrative action designed to keep them from donating blood - a social act and a civic duty - was 'a threat of the pink star.'" (p. 198)

How did the reaction of French militants to the issue of blood donation differ from that of Swedish and British militants in 1983? (p. 200)

"Failure to implement the 1983 memo on the screening of donors (homosexuals, drug addicts, prisoners), combined with blood drives in prisons, turned out to be directly responsible for the contamination that occurred in France over two years' time." (p. 201)

"In 1984-85, it was confirmed that LAV (the future HIV) was the virus responsible for causing AIDS. In December 1984, a test (called "Elisa") as developed to detect antibodies to the virus, and its distribution began in 1985. These developments changed the way the disease was viewed: on the one hand, condom distribution changed the way the disease was viewed: it began to be considered a means of protection (1984); on the other hand, anyone could find out whether he had been exposed to the virus. In 1985, the test revealed that there was a phase of seropositivity, a latency period during which the person was infectious but not ill. The epidemiological prospects took on a new dimension: so-called healthy carriers were now renamed 'asymptomatic carriers.' The scope of the tragedy became clearer. Current patients were only the tip of the iceberg: AIDS was truly a pandemic of enormous proportions." (p. 202)

Official spokespeople began to change their tone: "Dr. Lejeune [of Association des Medecins Gais] declared: Sine the number of partners is a risk factor, we must lower that number. Obviously, the virus must be in the blood: let us therefore refrain from donating our blood. Finally, the virus may be in sperm, so we must use condoms...Every aspect of sexuality is affected by AIDS. Admitting for the first time that the risk of contracting the virus increased with the number of sexual partners, the Association des Medecins Gais chose to depart from its earlier line. September 1984 marked a turning point." (p. 203)

"Their initial denial had made AIDS an invention of American puritanism; now these writers denied that the virus had reached epidemic (pandemic) proportions: a new phase; a new form of denial." (p. 204)

In response to people's assertions that there was probably no one left in the San Francisco bathhouses, Foucault (in 1983) reportedly said, "Don't kid yourself. There have never been so many people in the baths, and it's really extraordinary. This threat hanging over everyone has created a new complicity, a new tenderness, a new solidarity. Before, you hardly exchanged a word; now, everyone talks. Everyone knows precisely why he's there." (p. 205)

"While the condom was emerging as the only effective measure of prevention, nothing was more striking than the homosexual community's delay in accepting the idea. The government shared this reticence about the subject: it was not until 1987 that condom advertising was authorized." (p. 206)

..."For us, using a condom and reducing the number of partners was a return to a bygone era, a crime against love." (p. 206)

"In the first results of the testing conducted by blood banks after the 1985 Fabius decree, the rate of infection among blood donors was extremely high - the highest rate in Europe...This was the epicenter of blood contamination...every week between March and July 1985, between fifty and one hundred people who received tranfusions were infected...and of slightly more than 3,000 hemophiliacs living in France, nearly 50 percent were infected by the virus between 1981 and October, 1985." (p. 207, 212)

"It is possible to see the history of homosexuals' mobilizations against AIDS between 1981 and 1985 as an almost uninterrupted series of misunderstandings, delays, and self-imposed blindness. The 'flighty' way in which homosexual leaders treated the AIDS problem took various and contradictory forms, from denying that the disease existed to denying its importance, from refusing to take preventative measures to refusing to be tested for the virus." (p. 207)

In a published letter from Charles A. in Homophonies (1983), a gay doctor in Nantes says: "Even though I'm a doctor, I am proud to know almost nothing about the 'gay cancer.' The glut of information about a disease I will probably never see in my office makes me sick." (p. 208)

"Homosexual denial is an important fact in the history of the epidemic in France...In 1982-83, France, unlike Sweden and Great Britain, had no homosexual community: the only bond was sexual; it was a community of desire." (p. 209)

What does this have to do with our discussion of identity politics? How are identity politics useful in combatting something like AIDS?

Foucault's lover Daniel Defert: "I have never been a militant of homosexual identity because identity politics is not my style."

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